EXPERTS have called for minimum pricing on cigarettes and a licence fee to sell tobacco under radical new proposals to drive down smoking rates in Scotland.

They said smoke-free parks and playgrounds should also be considered alongside limits on the number of retail outlets allowed to sell tobacco products in a particular area in order to curb their availability.

The recommendations are outlined today in a report by NHS Health Scotland and public health researchers at Edinburgh University, which is expected to guide the Scottish Government's new tobacco control strategy in 2018.

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It comes as the Chancellor confirmed that the tobacco tax will continue to rise at inflation plus two per cent.

The report, 'Tobacco Control Policy in Scotland', said that adult smoking rates had been static in Scotland since 2013 and that more needed to be done to reduce smoking, especially among the most deprived communities.

A total of ten experts - policy makers, practitioners and researchers - were asked what the priorities should be for the new strategy.

One said a licensing system should be introduced where retailers "pay a modest license fee to sell tobacco" and face having it revoked if they were "caught selling to underage smokers on more than one occasion".

The unnamed advisor said: "We could attach a minimum unit price for tobacco to the conditions of licensing, so that would mean that in that premise tobacco couldn’t be sold below a certain price, even potentially higher than the current tax rates."

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Another interviewee said there was currently one tobacco outlet for every 90 smokers and the clustering of these retail outlets "is almost completely around areas of multiple harm, co-morbidities and multiple deprivation". They added: "There’s good evidence to suggest that controlling retail density can help stop people taking up cigarettes in the first place."

Proposals also included calls for "smoke-free parks and playgrounds" and "a ‘health cordon’ around schools", as well as more mass media campaigns focused on smoking cessation and second-hand smoke exposure.

Dr Garth Reid, Principal Public Health Adviser at NHS Health Scotland and one of the study’s authors, said:

“Scotland’s health is improving but the gap between the health of the best and least well off is widening. Smoking causes over 10,000 deaths each year and is the biggest cause of preventable death in Scotland.”

Co-author John McAteer, of the Scottish Collaboration for Public Health Research and Policy (SCPHRP) at Edinburgh University said: “Smoking rates are no longer falling; they are at a stand-still. This is a stark reminder of how much still needs to be done to tackle smoking.”

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However Simon Clark, director of the smokers' group Forest, said the suggestions were part of a "middle class war on smoking".

He added: "It's patronising and deeply offensive.

"Tobacco is a legal product and if adults choose to smoke knowing the risks that choice must be respected.

"Making tobacco even more expensive would discriminate against those who are less well off. It will also fuel illicit trade by encouraging more smokers to buy tobacco illegally.

"Spending money on mass media campaigns or incentivising retailers not to sell tobacco would be gross misuse of public funds.

"Most smokers who want to quit do so without the need for stop smoking services or other state-sponsored initiatives. In recent years a significant number have switched to safer e-cigarettes without government intervention."